The purpose of this essay is to offer the public a factual history of the Illuminati. There is so much misinformation and spurious (frankly paranoid) conspiracy theory on the internet concerning this past organization, that some clarity is useful. While this German Enlightenment organization was indeed a secret society, its history is no secret. There are several legitimate sources of information on which a balanced, earnest reader may draw. This essayist has chosen The Society of the Enlightenment. The Rise of the Middle Class and Enlightenment Culture in Germany, as his source. Richard van Dulmen, the book's author, is Professor of Modern History at the University of Saarland. The structure of this article will contain first, a short history of their origins; second, an explanation of the structure of this organization; and third, a brief description of their principles and plans which resulted in their being outlawed.
“The League of the Illuminati was founded in 1776 in the university town of Ingolstadt by the twenty-eight year old Professor of Church Law and Practical Philosophy, Adam Weishaupt.” (Dulmen, p. 105). Its original intention was to oppose the Catholic Jesuit sect’s goals and philosophy. He recruited its first members from among his students. Weishaupt originally conceived of the nascent association as a secret organization to avoid outside (read State and Jesuit) interference, and to exert greater personal control over the agenda. As interest in his group expanded to other towns in Germany, the program of the Illuminati expanded as well. It began to include a more affirmative tenor of not just opposing Jesuits, but advancing Enlightenment notions of reason. When, in 1778, the Munich chapter of the Freemasons became enthusiastic about the Illuminati program, Weishaupt lost control of the organization. Munich was not prepared to accept Weishaupt’s autocratic leadership and appointed itself “Aeropagus” or “the highest collegiate of the league.” Munich was joined by journalist Aldoph Freiherr von Knigge in their bid to assume leadership. Weishaupt spent the next six years in a losing battle for control of the organization until its 1785 demise, when it was officially banned by the government of Karl Theodor, Elector of Bavaria.
There was a three-tier structure to this organization. The Novitiate was an entry level where “young Illuminati were educated…each under the individual supervision of a leader. They were taught to lead a moral life, to educate themselves, to read a particular canon of books, view everything in a critical light and write short tracts…it was essential to display both absolute obedience to the leader and discretion.” (Dulmen, p. 113). Tier two, the Minervals, were “the league’s foundation, a type of learned society, meeting in lodges.” (Dulmen, p. 113). The third and final tier was the Arcana. It was conceived as “the foundations upon which the whole edifice stood.” But no one ever attained this grade. The organization only survived eight years and was disbanded before any member exhibited enough learning to qualify. So the Minerval tier “exercised the decisive influence.” (Dulmen, p. 114).
Principles, Plans & Termination.
The principles of this organization were benign enough: they wished to realize “the dream of the kingdom of reason, in which equality before the law, freedom of thought and freedom from violence would reign supreme.” But the implementation is what got the Illuminati into so much trouble: “It was the deliberate intention of the league that…all important religious, governmental and, not least, didactic institutions should be infiltrated by Illuminati sympathizers in order that they might operate in the best interests of reason.” The plan was to surround “the ruling princes with a network of Illuminati sympathizers so that they would be left with no alternative but to govern in the spirit of Illuminism.” (Dulmen, p. 113). When Illuminati documents were brought to Prince Karl Theodor, he exhibited a disinclination to be thusly influenced. His March 2, 1785 edict banning all secret societies ended the organization.
The League of the Illuminati was an Enlightenment era phenomenon. There is no surviving secret society from that time period. As for the current conspiracy theories: The Rothschilds are not members of any modern version; this was not a society that would have accepted Jews. The Kennedys are not members of any modern version; there is no way that the former Illuminati would have accepted immigrants into their membership. The Extra-terrestrials are not members; I suppose it’s the immigrant thing again. The Illuminati began and ended in the Seventeenth Century. I hope this short essay has cleared-up some misconceptions.
Dulmen, Richard van. The Society of the Enlightenment. The Rise of the Middle Class and Enlightenment Culture in Germany. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992.